Despite investment, there is still a ‘significant funding gap’ within grassroots football

The Football Association has warned of a ‘significant funding gap’ after the release of a new report looking at the social and economic impact of grassroots football, which is valued it at £10.8billion.

This was the first study of its kind and commissioned by the FA with the aim of measuring the real benefits of the grassroots game, which is played by an estimated 12 million people each year. This involvement generates a direct economic value of £2.05bn, with social well-being accounting for a further £8.7bn.

It was revealed that the average person spends £326 per year playing football, which equates to an annual tax contribution to the Exchequer of £410m. The lifestyle benefits were also producing a cost saving to the NHS of £43.5m.

The figures come from the analysis of sample data of over 8,700 participants between August 2017 and March 2018, which measured the physical and mental improvements that playing football can have in someone’s life, in addition to developing greater social and community cohesion.

The FA is currently investing around £1m each week into the grassroots game, with the total figure, which includes Premier League and government funding via the Football Foundation, thought to come to £70m-a-year.

However, one in six matches was postponed last season and the proposed £600m sale of Wembley failed to materialise last year, which led to renewed calls for there to be further investment into the Football Foundation, a charity that distributes funds to increase football participation throughout England.

The FA’s International and Corporate Affairs Director, Robert Sullivan, said that the best football experiences need a great pitch and a great coach. People and places are what drives participation and the biggest challenge in that is ensuring quality facilities are available near everybody who wants to play the game.

Sullivan said that is why Sport England and the Premier League were investing in the Football Foundation so they could deliver new artificial pitches, improve grass pitches and offer great community spaces. However, he warned that it remains a big challenge with a significant funding gap to fill.

The FA’s initial plans were to use the cash from the sale of Wembley to build up to 1,500 artificial pitches across the country, whilst improving grassroots facilities at the same time. Although that sale never happened, the conversations the controversial proposal started looks like having benefits already.

The Wembley sale process raised the awareness that community football facilities in England need significant investment, so the FA, working with football stakeholders and the Government are looking to identify new and innovative ways of investing in community football facilities.

However, it seems crazy that with all the money involved in modern day football, very little of it is filtering down to the grassroots. When you see that Paul Pogba’s agent made £41m for himself when the Frenchman joined Manchester United, it highlights how much money is going out of football. £41m could do so much for a local community to get people playing football and reap the benefits of doing so.

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